A fresh perspective on a classic accessory
By Poormina Apte
You can credit Chanel or Jason Wu. Or Downton Abbey. Whatever the reason, pearls are enjoying a renewed interest and dominating lookbooks and fashion runways. But these aren’t your grandmother’s staid single strands. Mixed with a variety of other jewels and worked onto unexpected canvases such as leather and metals, pearls are being reimagined for the contemporary woman.
While this is good news for fashionistas everywhere, the expansive variety of pearls means retailers need to know what to look for and how to tell real from faux, with both having favor. We dive into the basics.
Naturally occurring pearls are increasingly rare. Most of those on the market are cultured pearls, derived when farmers artificially introduce irritants into oysters and mollusks. Cultured pearls are further subdivided by the types of waters in which they sourced: saltwater or the more common freshwater. Pearls also are classified by the regions in which they are cultured. Examples include Akoya pearls from Japan; South Sea grown in large saltwater tropical oysters; and Tahitian pearls.
Then there are glass beads that are polished and coated to look like pearls. This thin coating eventually wears off so retailers are advised to source their pearls from reputable vendors. The Cultured Pearl Association of America recommends sliding the strand across your mouth as a test, fake pearls glide while the real ones are gritty from the nacre or the irritant around which the pearl forms.
Traditionally, best pearls are perfectly round, have a high lustre and are free of imperfections. Of various factors used to evaluate pearls, lustre is the most important according to Susie Kinzig of Kinzig Design who has ventured into creating jewelry.
Other criteria include surface, shape, size and color. While freshwater pearls often come in irregular forms, they are creatively worked into creative designs and offer a fresh spin, says Kinzig, who works pearls into industrial romantic kinds of designs for an updated contemporary touch.
Celebrity stylist and jewelry expert Michael O’Connor, cites an interest in past eras (Mad Men, anybody?) as driving pearl demand, which in turn translates into vintage inspirations on the runways an in top fashion houses. But today’s look is more “in-your-face” he says.
Girl With A Pearl’s Bohemian line work pearls into leather and suede for looks that can be dressed up or down. Pearl blogger India Rows says chainmail styles with pearls are another look retailers should look for when searching for new products.
For example, Deniz Zizzi of Accessory Drawer sees designers such as Beth Greenberg mixing pearls with sterling silver chains.
“We think the pearl is the perfect touch to our handmade jewelry, taking something vintage and turning it into something new and fresh,” says Laurel George of The Vintage Pearl.
These fresh perspectives make pearls more attractive to women who used to dismiss them strictly as old-fashioned jewelry. And while pearls can be expensive, pieces with single pearls or freshwater options worked into leather lariats or sterling silver can be surprisingly affordable as well as fashionable.
“Women wear pearls with T-shirts, flowy blouses and cocktail dresses from brunch and work to an evening event,” Zizzi says, “Nowadays pearls are an everyday basic that fit effortlessly in the jewelry closet.”
For more information: Accessory Drawer – accessorydrawer.com, 888.209.8432; Girl With a Pearl – girlwithapearl.com, 615.767.1972; India Rows – 706.850.5296; Kinzig Design – kinzigdesign.com, 650.952.6006; Michael O’Connor – styleandsubstance.com; The Vintage Pearl – 918.935.3254; thevintagepearl.com
Images courtesy of Accessory Drawer, Girl With A Pearl, Kinzig Desig and The Vintage Pearl